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Beyond polarisation: approaches to vaccination 
Lesley Branagan (Hamburg University)
Anna Dowrick (University of Oxford)
Rebecca Cassidy (University of Kent)
Simon Bailey (University of Kent)
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Format :
Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Covid’s threat to modern reasoning and subsequent divisions are located in policies, discourses and experiences of vaccines, polarised into ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ sentiment. We consider the interplay between the promises of vaccines, unexpected vaccine experiences, and Covid’s threat to rational order.

Long Abstract:

The Covid pandemic brought significant transformations in the technologies, roles, governance, discourses and meanings of vaccines.

The technological and political promise of Covid vaccines has left limited space for exploration of their unintended consequences. Dramatic polarisations of ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ sentiments result in disbelief, silencing, and exploitation of unexpected experiences connected to vaccination, particularly in the context of vaccine injury. Similarly, desire to re-purpose vaccines for other uses, such as treatments for Long Covid, has met resistance.

In these responses we find a paradoxical refusal to consider the spaces and ‘residual categories’ (Bowker & Star, 2000) between pro- and anti-vaccination, and limited engagement in the multiplicity of what vaccines ‘do’. However, histories of changing uses of vaccines as technologies, vaccine injuries and medical-legal reform also show that there are potential sites for contesting these polarised categories (Kirkland, 2016).

We encourage explorations of the broader relations between the threat of Covid and the subsequent failures of reflexivity related to ‘unexpected reactions’ to, with, and about vaccines.

Paper proposals could consider:

The effects of complexity and uncertainty upon polarisation, and the paradoxical ‘hardening’ of both lay and professional perspectives on unexpected vaccine reactions;

The temporalities and futurism at play in promises concerning the unknowable (Beckert, 2016), and the consequent misdirection of vaccine expectations and resources;

The interplay of polarising categories of risk and threat, trust and mis-trust, and the possibilities for nuanced understandings of agency and vaccine hesitancy;

The ‘distribution of belief and unbelief’ (Douglas & Wildavsky, 1982) represented by polarised vaccine discourses, and the positioning of different interests (scientific, professional, governmental);

Contestations of categorisations, through advocacy, or ‘citizenship work’ (Petryna, 2004) and the role of narrative in mediating between the ‘counter-factual and factual’ (Maier, 2004) in the context of unexpected events.